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When I was younger, surf trips were simple. The goal was always the same – to be gone as long as possible, spend as little money as possible and surf as much as possible. I loved those trips. But alas, those days are over.
Now that I’m happily married and have two kids, my surf trips have definitely changed. First and foremost, they’ve become a family affair. The benefits of having your spouse and kids enjoying beautiful locations and riding waves with you are immense. I’m learning the art of how to squeeze a surf trip into a family vacation (or vice versa). Sure, I still get away on my own or with friends every now and then, but not like I used to.
While family surf vacations may not offer the same spontaneity or wave count of more traditional surf trips (forget about last-minute surgical strikes) I wouldn’t trade them for any amount of waves. If you’re looking for ideas for your next getaway, here are five destinations that will please any family with at least one wave rider in the group.
#1. Punta Mita, Mexico: Beginner Waves, Warm Water and Easy Travel
The sunny coastline just north of Puerto Vallarta is full of surf potential. Surfers have been coming here for decades, drawn to the wide variety of waves and picturesque backdrops. This mainland Mexico destination is an easy two-to-three hour flight for much of the southern US and is home to one of the best beginner breaks in Mexico, El Anclote. Think Waikiki in Mexico. The waves are long, rolling and break in both directions, offering the chance for multiple surfers on each wave. You can catch a wave right next to your kids, laughing all the way to shore. This area is popular with long boarders and now SUP surfers. Even Gerry Lopez makes an annual pilgrimage to lead a surf and yoga retreat.
Don’t miss the nearby funky surf town of Sayulita which features a beginner point break, horseback riding, ATV tours, zip lining and great restaurants. It’s no longer a sleepy fishing village – Sayulita offers plenty of topside activities for any non-surfers, but is still a breath of fresh air compared to the mega resorts of Puerto Vallarta. Lastly, be sure to save time for the short boat ride out to Las Marietas Islands which offers hidden beaches and snorkeling that rivals many Caribbean destinations.
Punta Mita is a bit of a playground for the world’s rich and famous and the accommodations reflect this. But don’t be deterred, there’s a real gem called Cinco Hotel situated directly on the El Anlcote surf break. Cinco Hotel caters to surfers and is owned by a surfer. Home to the above mentioned Gerry Lopez retreat, you’ll be equally at home with sandy bare feet or wearing a shirt and tie in this upscale but relaxed boutique hotel. Their restaurant is one of the best in the area and the onsite shop rents surfboards and provides daily surf lessons as well.
The three bedroom suites easily fit most families and best of all, have views of the surf below. Sneak out each morning for a dawn patrol while the family sleeps or better yet, get everyone out together for some great waves and fun times. Anyone who tires out early can relax on the beach, or in the rooftop pool, and cheer on the rest of the family.
#2. Belize: For the Robinson Crusoe Family
Surf in Belize? I know what you’re thinking – Belize has no surf. That’s not entirely true, though. There is surf if you know where to look (and have patience). Belize is home to one of the world’s largest barrier reefs which means the scuba diving is superb, and while most of the Belize coast and fringing islands are blessed with calm waters for diving, the outer reefs harness whatever wave energy the Caribbean can produce. Also, the official language of Belize is English, making this an easy first family surf trip that’s close to home and free of language barriers.
Belize has scores of accommodations scattered across its islands but if you want to surf, there’s only one option I know of. Slick Rock Adventure Lodge on Long Caye in the Glover’s Reef Atoll is ideal for families wanting to live their own version of Castaway and maybe even catch a wave. Thirty-five miles off the coast of Belize, this adventure island with its own wave out front is a dream getaway for adults and kids alike. The tiny, picturesque island is off the grid and has power supplied on site via solar and wind energy. Guests stay in twelve cabanas with no TV, no telephone and no shortage of water sports to choose from: kiteboarding, windsurfing, surfing, SUP, snorkeling, scuba diving, fishing… it’s all here and it’s all for you. While the surf break isn’t super consistent or great for beginners because of the rocky reef bottom, it’s a blast for intermediate surfers when there’s swell. Plus it’s just a short paddle offshore so you can see the kids wading and chasing fish while you race down the line. After your surf session, grab kayaks or SUPs and snorkel gear and spend the afternoon together exploring the shallow waters and virgin reefs as far as the eye can see.
#3. Playa Negra, Costa Rica: Vacation Rental in Paradise
If your family’s idea of a perfect vacation is renting a comfortable beach house and spending the week relaxing, playing games and soaking up the sun, then check out Playa Negra in Costa Rica. Just thirty minutes south of Tamarindo, Playa Negra has a gorgeous beach and a world-class wave… and that’s about it. Peace, quiet and incredible sunsets can be found in abundance. Playa Negra is a small community with a few restaurants and shops, but after dark the town mostly shuts down.
The sun rises early in Playa Negra, and that’s a good thing. You’ll be anxious to paddle out at one of Costa Rica’s best reef breaks or explore the empty beach with the kids. Low tide not only brings barrels in the water but also a huge expanse of tide pools that can keep kids and adults occupied for hours seeking out sea creatures in the shallow waters. Other surf options nearby include Playa Avellanas which can be great for all levels and several other spots you’ll easily find once you arrive.
A few dozen vacation homes dot the coastline surrounding the surf break. The lots are large and less than half have homes built on them, lending a spacious and roomy feel to the area. One of the most impressive vacation rentals is the waterfront Casa Ohana. Ohana is the Hawaiian word for “family” and this huge home with five bedrooms and a pool couldn’t be better suited for families. The rooms have walls of windows, balconies and perfect surf views. The outdoor living room with ping pong and hammocks adjacent to the pool will quickly become the family’s favorite hangout spot when you’re not on the beach or in the surf.
#4. Tofino, British Columbia: Like a Cold Water Costa Rica
Most of us dream of warm water and weather for our surf trips. Well, Tofino is located in what’s called a temperate rainforest, which is sort of a nice way of saying a place is cold and rainy with lots of trees. But here’s the magic about Tofino – the crisp sea air, the towering pines, the solitude, the waves, and log cabins all come together to create what many call their favorite little surf town. If you’re an outdoorsy family, preferring National Parks to concrete jungles, then this logging and fishing town turned surf destination is perfect for you. Yes, you’ll have to leave your shorts and t-shirts at home, but most people find a coat and wetsuit a fair trade-off to experience the natural beauty and charming village of this Canadian surf hot spot.
Besides the majestic views you’ll find every where you look, one great thing about Tofino is it has waves for every level. Especially in the summer months, Tofino is full of families coming out to try surfing for the first time. Beginners can find a peak of their own on the wide sandy expanses of Long Beach or Chesterman Beach. Experienced surfers can search out reef breaks or slabs where you’ll find plenty of power. While the location may be remote, don’t worry, once you roll into town there are numerous surf shops and surf schools to get you outfitted for your paddle out.
Options range from cozy vacation cottages to large rustic lodges. Most accommodations are beachfront or a just short walk through the forest to the sand. If you really want the wow factor, check out the Wickaninnish Inn set out on its own rocky point with the forest behind and the ocean in front. The digs are decidedly upscale and the surf views are hard to beat. You can walk out of your room and head straight to the waves, spend time exploring the tide pools below the Inn or take a hike through the forest to Hot Springs Cove. When you return treat yourselves to a couples massage in the spa while the kids tackle hand crafted puzzles in the library.
#5. Siargao Island, The Philippines: For the World Travelers
Many new parents say, “I’m not going to let having kids slow me down” and dream of traveling the world with toddlers in tow. Some families actually follow through and explore remote destinations with their kids, providing rich experiences that build memories and expand world views. If this is you (or you wish it was) then Siargao Island may be the perfect family destination for couples with young kids keen on adventure. The flight across the Pacific is long, so pack plenty of snacks, and once you arrive go ahead and stay a while.
The recent typhoon did not affect the Siargao area and your business will be greatly appreciated right now as tourism is down. As for surfing, Siargao is home to a truly world-class wave, Cloud 9, a perfect top-to-bottom barrel. One unique thing about Cloud 9, with its iconic bamboo boardwalk over the reef, is that even though it’s world-class, it’s not only for experts. The wave is actually a fine place for beginners to test their skills or kids to paddle out when the conditions permit.
When you’re not surfing Cloud 9 or the dozens of other clear water reef breaks, you can enjoy other aspects of this tropical paradise. Pristine beaches, palm trees, friendly locals along with great diving and snorkeling will have you second guessing your hectic life back at home. Often, traveling with kids breaks down cultural barriers immediately and Siargao is one of those locations where your kids will soon be playing on the beach with locals, further tempting you to consider leaving it all behind and making the island life permanent.
You get a lot of bang for your buck in the Philippines. Most accommodations on Siargao are built with local materials, including exotic hardwoods and thatched roofs. The styles are simple yet elegant. For a fun atmosphere, try Buddha’s Surf Resort which offers surf lessons and is a five minute motorbike ride to Cloud 9. Or if you really want get off the beaten path, stay at Bamboo Garden. $27 a night will get you a beachfront family cabin with white sand and surf right out front.
As I’m learning more and more each year, the world is full of ideal locations to travel with the family and catch some waves in the process. Whether it’s a remote jungle beach in Central America or a big coastal city with all the amenities, get out there, explore and find your own perfect family surf vacation.